50 Book Challenge: 26-30

It is the fate of all banisters worth sliding down that there is something nasty waiting at the far end. — Terry Pratchett

We are coming to the end of Week 24/52 and I’ve read 30/50. I suspect it will be even slower from now on, I may start posting individually when I finish books so I don’t forget.

26. Soul Music – Terry Pratchett, read by Nigel Planer
I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. I quite like the main character, Susan the granddaughter of Death, who eventually becomes a sort of badass Mary Poppins. I liked her character, but the rest of the book was just sort of OK. I’ve found I don’t actually like the Death centered books that much. Anyway, I saw the Hogfather BBC movie and I really enjoyed Susan et al there, so I’m looking forward to getting to it.

27. Interesting Times – Terry Pratchett, read by Nigel Planer
The return of Rincewind, haven’t heard from him in a while. I didn’t much care for this book, it wasn’t terrible or anything, it just wasn’t terribly compelling.

28. Maskerade – Terry Pratchett, read by Nigel Planer
I think how much you like this book is dependent on your relationship with the Phantom of the Opera, which is to say if you are both familiar and mildly contemptuous of it, while retaining a special place in your heart for it, then you’ll very much enjoy this book. I think this is a book you could very easily read independently of the series without losing anything.  Have some quotes that will explain this to you.

After you’d known Christine for any length of time, you found yourself fighting a desire to look into her ear to see if you could spot daylight coming the other way.

“Well, basically there are two sorts of opera.  There’s your heavy opera, where basically people sing foreign and it goes like “Oh oh oh, I am dyin’, oh, I am dyin’, oh, oh, oh, that’s what I’m doin'”, and there’s your light opera, where they sing in foreign and it basically goes “Beer! Beer! Beer! Beer! I like to drink lots of beer!”, although sometimes they drink champagne instead. That’s basically all of opera, reely.”

29. Asimov’s Guide to the Old Testament – Isaac Asimov
Oh my God I finally finished this. It took ages. It’s nearly 700 pages of historical analysis of the Old Testament. It’s very well written, it’s just that some parts of the Old Testament (aka the early bits) are way more interesting than the other parts (the prophets). I really enjoyed what I learned, but after I got through the fun stories it was a bit more difficult. Still, I enjoyed reading the explanations of all the prophecies and how they were related to the history of the local civilizations.

Since there are some stories attached, I’ve now got a decent timeline in my head of Syria, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and anything else ending with ia that I’m forgetting. I guess I’m one of them atheists that likes to be able to know holy texts better’n the religious and since I live where the Judeo-Christians dominate, the Bible is what I like to be able to tear apart.

Also, as a complete political junkie, understanding the very earthly political motivations driving a lot of what is said in the book is very enlightening. I recommend this for anyone looking to be literate in the historical study of the Bible, but who doesn’t like boring people. Because, even when the material is dry, Asimov has an enthusiasm and sense of humor that makes it readable. And, at 700 pages, it really is exhaustive. Plus, lots of maps.

30. Feet of Clay – Terry Pratchett, read by Nigel Planer
I know this list is mostly Terry Pratchett, but the Asimov book took me some weeks and I wouldn’t allow myself any other readable books til I got through it. This is the best one of the bunch, I think. I really really like the guards stories, and if you’re into Dirty Harry, crime solving, hijinks, or really like Severus Snape, I would recommend the guard books in the Discworld series.

Published at Salon

So, it’s been an interesting day.  I should have known when I woke up slightly more willingly than usual with Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance stuck in my head.  Anyway, I cross publish my blog on OpenSalon, Twitter and Facebook because it’s automatic and low-effort.  I’ve been writing lengthy Prop 8 things for a while, they’ve gotten limited attention, but apparently my long ramble late last night was appreciated by many people.

I checked my e-mail and there were a lot more than usual, comments on this piece but over at Salon.  Turns out I’d made their front page.  Furthermore, Broadsheet posted an edited for length version on their site.  This makes me happy since when I read something interesting I send it immediately to either PZ Myers, Andrew Sullivan or Broadsheet.

So, yeah, I’m just stoked that my name is on the front page of Salon (twice!) and people think I’m vaguely interesting.  Since I think the ideal life would be just writing opinion pieces and speaking at events, it’s like a tiny little slice of that.  My mother has decided that this means I need to go to Law School.  I kinda want to, but that’s madness.  I credit the good fortune to putting Diego Forlan as my new Facebook profile picture.

Prop 8 Closing Arguments

Should you wish to read the entire thing, it is available here.

From what I can tell, there’s only one argument that Prop 8 Proponents have, which is that only heterosexuals can get accidentally pregnant, so marriage is necessary only for them.  It’s a strange argument, no doubt, but it is essentially the only quantitative difference between gays and some heterosexuals.  I say some because, of course, people who are infertile, past menopause, or who have no intention of reproducing are allowed to get married, so long as their genitals look one way or another.  To say that marriage is only about protecting children from being accidentally created is… well… changing the definition of marriage, which is supposedly something these guys are against.  Judge Walker said it nicely.

And [marriage], as Mr. Olson described this morning, is a right which extends essentially to all persons, whether they are capable of producing children, whether they are incarcerated, whether they are behind in their child support payments. There really is no limitation except, as Mr. Olson pointed out, a gender limitation.

Judge Walker asked a series of penetrating questions, I was quite impressed.  They were the questions I would have asked, but much less snarky.    He asked why the chief witness for the Prop 8 side had said we’d be more American the day we allowed same-sex marriage, he asked why it’s OK to take away the rights of a minority when nothing good comes of doing so, he wanted to know why it wasn’t gender discrimination if not homosexual discrimination, and he wanted to know if it was appropriate for the court to make a decision still being fought over politically.  And of course Mr. Olson was eloquent as always.

What we’re talking about here is allowing individuals who have the same impulses, the same drives, the same desires as all of the rest of us, to have a relationship in harmony, stability, and to form a family and a neighborhood, all of those things that the Supreme Court talked about.  And, now, tell me how it helps the rest of the citizens of California to keep them out of the club. It doesn’t.

These are, undoubtedly, very pretty words.  But I actually think the entire decision is going to come down to one exchange between Walker and Olson, and it’s not necessarily a terribly pretty one, but it is, I think, the most important.  And that is, is it politically viable to send this to the Supreme Court now?  It’s an important question, and one that a lot of people who support gay marriage disagree on.  There was a lot of hostility and distrust from the gay community at the beginning of this trial because they were afraid it was doomed from the start and would sink the chances of gay marriage getting passed because the Supreme Court is so conservative (little c).

This is a long excerpt, but as I think everything depends on it, I’ll leave it long.

THE COURT: I fully understand. But there was already a tide running, a political tide running with respect to interracial marriage. And, as Mr. Cooper duly commented about the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court took note of that. Now, do we have a political tide here that’s going to carry the Supreme Court?

MR. OLSON: I believe, Your Honor, that there is a political tide running. I think that people’s eyes are being opened. People are becoming more understanding and tolerant.  The polls tell us that. That isn’t any secret.

But that does not justify a judge in a court to say, “I really need the polls to be just a few points higher. I need someone to go out and take the temperature of the American public before I can break this barrier and break down this discrimination.”

Because if they change it here in the next election in California, we still have Utah. We still have Missouri. We still have Montana.  This case is going to be in a court. Some judge is going to have to decide what we’ve asked you to decide.

And there will never be a case with a more thorough presentation of the evidence. There will never be a case with such a wildly crazy system that California has. There will never be a case more like Romer, where the right existed and hen it was taken away. There will never be a case against the background.

The Supreme Court really made that step that you are talking about, in Lawrence vs. Texas. And that overruled Bowers vs. Hardwick, which was only 20 years earlier. But that broke the barrier by saying that the behavior, the conduct between the individuals is a right of privacy, and it’s protected by the Constitution.

And the right of privacy is the same right that we’re talking about in the context of marriage. And I don’t think that is justification for waiting any longer.

And, as I said, the most compelling thing that I have read on that subject was the arguments that were being made to Martin Luther King saying, you know, “You ought to ease up. The people aren’t ready for these kind of changes. There’s going to be a backlash.”

And his letter from a Birmingham jail explaining why he could not wait to press the civil rights of his fellow citizens is as compelling a statement on that subject that’s ever been written.

And that’s the argument.  Everything else is proven, Prop 8 is unconstitutional, it’s wrong, there’s nothing that the Proponents have said that holds any water.  The only argument holding any water is the one Judge Walker is acknowledging, which is that maybe America isn’t ready to be the place it promises to be.  And there are many pragmatists, old and young, gay and straight who will agree with that, and there are many idealists who are crying and screaming and gnashing their teeth at the thought that politics is ever more important than human decency.

I think Judge Walker is ultimately a pragmatist, but he’s got a long view of things, and I think he’ll want to be on the right side of history.  So, my bet is that he’ll rule in against the constitutionality of Prop 8 and do so very conservatively and thoroughly, the real question is whether he’ll immediately reinstate gay marriages or not, and I tend to think he won’t.  But maybe.

Our Fate is in His Hands

World Cup Day 5, Day 6

New Zealand v Slovakia

An amazing last minute (literally) goal from New Zealand gave them their first point in the World Cup and earned them a draw with Slovakia, who’d been up since just after the half.

Ivory Coast v Portugal

For a scoreless match, this one was sort of interesting, though I would have liked to see more and better play from Drogba and Ronaldo, two of the most famous and talented football stars.  Drogba is recovering from a broken arm and Ronaldo’s kind of an obnoxious prima donna, so maybe that explains it?

Brazil v North Korea

What should have been an incredibly easy win for Brazil was actually a bit tougher than anyone really expected.  North Korea got an extremely late goal to bring them up to one behind and were making a valiant attempt at a second goal.  I was impressed with the North Koreans and happy for them to have scored, still Brazil dominated the match.

Honduras v Chile

Well the news is bad for Spain, because Chile easily won this match versus Honduras.

Spain v Switzerland

Alright, I am pissed.  Dammit Spain, this is supposed to be your year and once again you choke like the chokers you are.  Here I am putting my neck out for you, saying that you deserve it for being great all these years and always fumbling at the world cup, and what do you do?  You lose to Switzerland despite the fact that you had possession of the ball for 75% of the game.  Seriously?  Do you not understand what you’re supposed to do with the ball? // End Rant

S. Africa v Uruguay

Have I mentioned how sexy the Uruguayans are, because my god I am in love with Diego Forlan and I don’t care who knows it.

Look at the sexy, I google image search so you don’t have to:

Oh, they won. You should care because Forlan scored two goals and the more they win the more I get to look at him.

THE CURRENT STANDINGS

Group A
1. Uruguay (4)
2. Mexico (1)
3. France (1)
4. S. Africa (1)

Group B

1. S. Korea (3)
2. Argentina (3)
3. Nigeria (0)
4. Greece (0)

Group C

1. Slovenia (3)
2. England (1)
2. USA (1)
4. Algeria (0)

Group D

1. Germany (3)
2. Ghana (3)
3. Serbia (0)
4. Australia (0)

Group E

1. Netherlands (3)
2. Japan (3)
3. Cameroon (0)
4. Denmark (0)

Group F

1. Italy (1)
1. Paraguay (1)
1. New Zealand (1)
1. Slovakia (1)

Group G

1. Brazil (3)
2. Ivory Coast (1)
2. Portugal (1)
4. N. Korea (0)

Group H
1. Chile (3)
1. Switzerland (3)
3. Honduras (0)
3. Spain (0)

McDonald’s Likes the Gays in France, hates them in the US

Then what’s that I smell? Floatin’ down from the North–could it be the aroma of hypocrisy? - 1776

Perhaps you’ve had the fortune to see this kind of weird commercial that McDonald’s is airing in France, or to see maybe the really homophobic reaction of Bill O’Reilly to it.  Bill O screamed and railed that it would never be aired in the US, because we don’t truck with that sort of thing.

This led to much mocking of Bill O as well as some sad acknowledgement that he was probably right.  Well, Mr. Don Thompson, COO of Mickey D’s decided that he was going to speak to the press about this very important issue.

I’ve never shied away from the fact that I’m a Christian. I have my own personal beliefs and I don’t impose those on anybody else. I’ve been in countries where the majority of the people in the country don’t believe in a deity or they may be atheist. Or the majority of the country is Muslim. Or it may be the majority is much younger skewed. So when you look at all these differences, it’s not that I’m to be the judge or the jury relative to right or wrong. Having said that, at McDonald’s, there are core values we stand for and the world is getting much closer. So we have a lot of conversations. We’re going to make some mistakes at times. (We talk) about things that may have an implication in one part of the world and may be the cultural norm in another part of the world. And those are things that, yes, we’re going to learn from. But, you’re right, that commercial won’t show in the United States. (Emphasis mine)

So, I just want to make sure I understand all of this.  He’s a Christian who doesn’t impose his values on anyone, but McDonald’s made a mistake by showing a gay-friendly ad and they stand for core values that apparently don’t include showing that commercial in the US.  Those core values are, of course, that they will make an attempt to fake the values of wherever they’re trying to sell hamburgers.

I sent them an e-mail, I doubt I’ll get a response, but I’ll post it if they do.  I actually like McDonald’s OK for fast food, and they’ve got a decent score with the HRC, so this homophobia may be particular to Mr. Thompson.  Or, more likely, a simple corporate attempt at having it both ways.  “We like the gays, because, let’s be honest, everyone in France is gay anyway.  But there aren’t any gays in Iran… or the US.”

Jesus on Fire

Not normally one to repost things I find on the interwebs without having something to add, but this is just… hilarious.

The large Jesus statue iconic to Interstate 75 in Monroe was destroyed following an apparent lightning strike during a thunderstorm.

Motorists were stopped along the highway and around the Monroe area to watch the 62-foot King of Kings statue burn.

Before you protest, I’m allowed to say it’s hilarious for three reasons.

1. It was hideous
2. It was a waste of a lot of money ($500k!)
3. No one was hurt

Hideous

Pretty

So we’ve learned that either there is no godly protection for “holy” sites and 60 foot statues made of steel and flammable materials are a bad idea or that god has taste and is willing to use his magic finger pointing powers for some exterior decorating.

P.S. If he comes back in three days, I’m going to be pissed if that means I miss the rest of the World Cup.

World Cup: Day 4; Writing D4aD

Netherlands v Denmark

Netherlands won as expected with the added bonus of a freak Denmark own goal.

Japan v Cameroon

Japan with an upset over Cameroon.

Italy v Paraguay

Italy was supposed to trounce Paraguay, and instead they ended up trailing for most of the game, and just pulling out a tie in the second half. Italy is not playing nearly as well as they did last cup, where they were the winners, but they have a reputation for eking by for the win anyway.

Finally put something on paper for the second act of D4aD. Hopefully the lack of a blank page staring at me will let me move with some speed through the rest of it.

World Cup: Day 2, Day 3

Halfway through the first round of group matches.

Argentina v Nigeria

Argentina, especially Lionel Messi, was incredibly agile and fast with the ball, but they were denied again and again by the fast and talented Nigerian goalie, Vincent Enyeama.  Any goalie less talented and Messi would have had at least one goal and possibly three.  Argentina wasn’t fully confident, they’ve got some defensive weaknesses, but they’re the most impressive team I’ve seen so far.

S. Korea v Greece

Well, who the hell expected that out of S. Korea, a contender out of nowhere and good for them.  Greece has been a little weak lately, but did not expect that.

England v USA

This is a game the USA should have lost, the way they were playing, and if not for the awful error on the part of the English goalie, Robert Green, they definitely would have.  The English played much better, the US was incredibly lucky.  They’ll need to do better.

Algeria v Slovenia

Slovenia comes out the winner, leaving them the surprising leader of Group C.  This game was very evenly matched, possession and attempts pretty evenly distributed.

Germany v Australia

I’m not sure Australia even showed up for this game.  They’re ranked 20, but they looked like they didn’t even know how the game was played.  Gratuitous fouling and total inability to fight the German’s efficient play – so destroyed was Australia that Germany is now a favorite to win the whole thing.  Germany looks good (minus the diving) but Australia, come on, that was ridiculous.  Every game today got a red card too.

Serbia v Ghana

Well performed on the part of Ghana, especially as they were not at all favored to win.

THE CURRENT STANDINGS

Group A

1. Mexico (1)
1. S. Africa (1)
3. Uruguay (1)
3. France (1)

Group B

1. S. Korea (3)
2. Argentina (3)
3. Nigeria (0)
4. Greece (0)

Group C

1. Slovenia (3)
2. England (1)
2. USA (1)
4. Algeria (0)

Group D

1. Germany (3)
2. Ghana (3)
3. Serbia (0)
4. Australia (0)


World Cup: Day 1

To give you an idea how accurate predictions are for the world cup, compare this post to what has happened today.

Right now, Mexico and S. Africa are technically in the lead in Group A. Both games (Mex v S.Af, Uru v Fra) ended in ties, but since both Mexico and South Africa have scored 1 goal each, they’re technically ahead of scoreless Uruguay and France. Uruguay also earned the first Red Card of the games, and managed to keep it tied with only ten men on the field.

What we’ve learned today is that S. Africa is beating expectations and making itself a contender, Mexico may continue its streak of disappointing World Cup showings, Uruguay is fantastic on defense but not so impressive on offense, and France is inconsistent. In my dream world, Uruguay and Mexico would move forward. With everything tied up, the remaining games have much greater pressure on them, but everyone is going into them without having to catch up. The game with impossible odds seems to be S. Africa v France, but if France continues to be inconsistent and S. Africa can ride this high, they may have a chance.

The other thing I learned is this: There are some super cute guys on the Uruguay team.

Captain Diego Lugano

Striker Diego Forlan

Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera

World Cup Polls!

An important part of the World Cup is picking teams you will cheer for and, even more fun, who you will cheer against.  My own prejudices are revealed in the polls below.  The system is complicated, but basically it goes as follows.

1. Spain because they’ve never won and they’re really good this year, and they’ve been really good in the past too.  Plus I’ve been to Spain, loved Barcelona, and speak Spanish.  So I’m cheering for them.

2. England is why I like soccer as much as I do, and it’d be nice to see them win again, especially as underdogs. They’ve only won once (’66) and they invented the stupid game.

3. Argentina has the best player in the world, Messi, and I like their flag/uniform colors.  Plus, I really liked the movie Evita. And it’s always nice to have a good guy on this side of the Atlantic.

4. USA.  Well, I mean, I live here so…

5. Mexico – “Mexico is the biggest loser at the tournament, having had 22 losses. They also have the worst goal differential, allowing 36 more than they have scored overall.”

So if it is Spain vs England or Argentina, I might have to simply sit that one out, can’t say I’d be sad if any of those three won it all, and they’ve got good odds.

Brazil is the special case, I really like them, they’re very talented and have a tendency to dominate the scene.  So, I want to cheer for them because they’re great, but literally everyone else in the tournament is an underdog because of them. I would be sad to not see them play incredibly well, but I’d also be sad to see them win it.

I’m cheering against the following:

1. Italy plays dirty and I don’t like that.  Sick of people pretending to fall down, and they completely earned that headbutt.  Also, they are the reigning champions.

2. Germany – I don’t necessarily hate the German team or anything, it’s just that, behind Brazil and Italy, they are the most winningest team at the World Cup.

3. France – You can’t be for England and not against France. “I’m very positive on the French, my family way back was French, so I go with it, but they are kind of, well, fucking French at times.” Eddie Izzard

4. N. Korea – This is just for the lulz